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Barry Young v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission

March 31, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pollak, J.


Before the court is defendant Joanne Schmidt's motion for summary judgment, dkt. 37, and plaintiff Barry Young's response thereto, dkt. 38. Young, who is African American, was previously employed by the Philadelphia School District ("School District" or "District"), where he was represented by the Firemen and Oilers Union Local # 1201 ("the Union"). After resigning from the School District, Young filed a complaint against the Union with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC),*fn1 alleging that the Union discriminated against him on the basis of race. Defendant Joanne Schmidt, who was a caseworker for the PHRC, was responsible for investigating Young's complaint. She concluded that there was no probable cause to believe the Union had discriminated against Young.

Young then filed a civil action, in this court, against Schmidt and others associated with the PHRC, alleging discrimination and bias. This court construes Young's allegations against Schmidt as claims, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that Schmidt, in her personal capacity, violated Young's (a) equal protection and (b) due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Because no genuine issue of material fact is in dispute, summary judgment is granted as to both claims.



Young's difficulties with the Union and the School District revolve around Young's purported violation of the School District's substance abuse policies.*fn2 Under those policies, employees such as Young may be terminated on the basis of three drug violations. Dkt. 37-3 (Findings of the Investigation) at 5--6. A violation includes a failed drug test. It also includes a "self-referral," which arises when an employee has been subjected to a drug test but, before the results are reported, the employee voluntarily identifies him or herself as needing assistance with alcohol or drug dependency. Id.

In this case, Young tested positive for cocaine on or around October 17, 2005 and was scheduled for a disciplinary hearing on October 25, 2005. Id. at 7. Prior to the hearing, Young met with his Union representative, Ron Ellis. Id. at 4--5; dkt. 37-2 (Young Deposition) at 27--31. Ellis advised Young that, because Young had two prior self-referrals, in addition to the recent positive drug test, the District would have grounds to discharge him. Ellis accordingly recommended that, rather than challenge the imminent discharge, Young should sign a resignation agreement which would guarantee him a neutral employment reference from the district as well as payment for his accumulated annual and sick leave. Young followed Ellis's advice and signed the resignation agreement.

Young then filed a complaint against the Union with the PHRC, alleging that Ellis misled and coerced him into signing the resignation agreement, and further alleging that Ellis's conduct amounted to discrimination on the basis of Young's race. Dkt. 37-3 (Findings of the Investigation). Young asserted (and continues to assert) that Ellis should not have advised him to resign because, Young contends, he was not in violation of the three-strikes policy. Specifically, Young appears to concede that he sought assistance on two occasions prior to the positive drug test, but he asserts that these were not actionable self-referrals because, at the time he sought assistance, there was no pending drug test.

After conducting an investigation into Young's claims, Schmidt concluded that Ellis and the Union had a legitimate, non-discriminatory basis for advising him to sign the resignation agreement. Dkt. 37-3 (Findings of the Investigation). Schmidt noted that Young had entered drug rehabilitation on two occasions prior to his positive drug test, and that the second occasion was associated with a March 16, 2004 "Notice of Self-Referral" form that was signed by Young. She also noted that the School District considered his first instance of rehabilitation to be an actionable self-referral. Schmidt's recommendation was adopted after supervisory review, and that determination was affirmed pursuant to PHRC appellate review procedures.


Young then filed a civil complaint in this court against the PHRC, which was dismissed pursuant to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Dkt. 7. In his amended complaint, Young named then--Attorney General Thomas Corbett Jr. andseveral employees and officials of the PHRC, including Schmidt. Dkt. 11. In ruling on a second motion to dismiss, the court found that Young had failed to allege personal involvement by any of the named defendants, with the exception of Schmidt. Dkt. 19. The amended complaint was accordingly dismissed with respect to all defendants except Schmidt.

Young presents two claims against Schmidt: 1) that she discriminated against him on the basis of race, in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and 2) that she violated his right to due process because she was biased in favor of her former employer, the Philadelphia School District. Pending before the court is Young's motion for summary judgment.


A party is entitled to summary judgment "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The moving party "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, this court ...

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